Good starters are always more valuable than good relievers. Many times, good starters are better than elite relievers. This is why teams have been converting their relievers into starters in recent years. It has sometimes worked (C.J. Wilson and Lance Lynn), and it has sometimes been a disaster (Daniel Bard and Neftali Feliz who injured himself and will end up missing over 2 months). Recent experiences have shown that Tom Tango’s rule of 17 probably isn’t actually a rule. It isn’t as simple as using a formula to see how well a reliever will do as a starter. There are simply too many variables for it not to be taken on a case by case basis. The Padres currently have Jason Marquis in their rotation. Before that, they had Jeff Suppan in the rotation. If there ever was a team that was justified in taking this risk of transferring a reliever to a starter, it’s the San Diego Padres. So the Padres sent Andrew Cashner, one of their stud relievers, down to the minors to get stretched out and work on being a starter. So I decided to watch his first start in AA and write about it.
He was facing the Houston Astros AA affiliate, Corpus Christi. Cashner was impressive out of the gate, hitting 99 MPH on the first pitch. He once hit 103 MPH in relief in a Spring Training game against the Mariners according to one radar gun. Triple digits are no problem for this guy and he was averaging 98.8 MPH in relief this year. He also showed off the change in the first at-bat. It was taken for a ball, but it has some good movement. He got a strikeout to the 2nd hitter on what looked like a slider down out of the zone and the hitter whiffed on it. He gave up a soft ground-ball and a soft fly-ball in that inning, throwing plenty of strikes and getting ahead of hitters. He also could throw his change for strikes, and get some big whiffs on the pitch.
He was locating the fastball low in the strikezone, which is just devastating at that velocity. Mixed with the slider, it was just unfair to many AA hitters, including Corpus’ best prospect, Jon Singleton. Singleton did have some major problems with breaking balls in Spring Training, but he is walking nearly 16% of the time in AA so far this year. Cashner was getting whiffs on all his pitches. He gave up a double in the gap on a fastball on the low part of the zone. A slider was then lifted to right center softly, but neither outfielder could get to it and it dropped for a run. He continued to throw quite a bit of strikes as his outing went along. The 3rd inning started with a 7 pitch at-bat, but he got a weak ground-out. Later in the inning, a goofy play by the 3rd baseman was ruled a hit for some unexplainable reason and it led to another run. To start the 4th, he struck out Singleton again by using the fastball to get ahead and then getting him to chase off-speed. He was then taken out after 52 pitches to a line of 3.1 innings, 2 runs, 4 strikeouts and no walks.
It appears he has a pretty simple and easy delivery. It didn’t look like a delivery that was a big injury risk. However, that is the real worry with Cashner, as people such as Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein and ESPN’s Keith Law have expressed worries that he will break down if he becomes a starter. It is not as if he is too small, the guy is 6’6 200 pounds. The body seems to be able to take it. Of course, injuries are a serious concern, and a pitcher having Tommy John surgery is much less valuable that a good reliever. There is serious risk/reward in moving Cashner to the rotation, but if he is able to stay healthy (which I simply do not know if he will be able to or not), he should be a really good starting pitcher.